How much did lockdown help Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ killers escape notice?

The The horrific death of six-year-old Arthur Labingo HughesMurdered by his stepmother Emma Tastin after weeks of abuse and torture, it may be an exceptional case in terms of sheer brutality, but it is unlikely to be the only such case to come out of lockdown.

Arthur was killed in June 2020, just weeks after his father Thomas Hughes (who was convicted of Arthur’s murder) moved with him to the Tustin House at the start of the lockdown in March 2020. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the couple moved in Amazing cruelty It seemed to have gone largely unnoticed.

The independent review of Arthur’s case now underway will examine why authorities in Solihull – social workers, police and teachers – have failed to identify signs of abuse or intervene, despite warnings from members of his wider family. Any individual errors and system failures will likely be highlighted.

But it may also consider the impact of the shutdown on domestic protection arrangements. With schools closed, much of normal social life suddenly interrupted, and families spending extended periods of time behind closed doors, the usual early warning system has collapsed. Hard to see signs of abuse?

To what extent has the effectiveness of local children’s services been diminished as staff become ill, forced into isolation, or unable to perform face-to-face family assessments and maintain relationships that are critical to detecting signs of abuse? Did the police come under the same pressure?

According to Breed Featherston, professor of social work at the University of Huddersfield, many social workers have worked “heroically” to stay in touch with families despite Covid restrictions. However, DI Laura Harrison of West Midlands Police explained that there were loopholes: “The usual professionals who should have been involved in child protection weren’t due to the lockdown.”

Referrals to child social care departments in England fell by a fifth in the first few months of the pandemic, according to the Local Government Association, indicating that usual levels of vigilance are not being maintained. During the same period about 1,600 children were cared for, a third down from previous years.

During this period, families were subjected to unprecedented stress, suffering isolation, financial hardship, and job losses in addition to pre-existing stresses. Domestic violence has increased under lockdown and rates of mental illness have risen – although it is hard to see Arthur’s killers as motivated by anything other than ruthless cruelty.

Official data indicate that the first year of the epidemic witnessed a Significant increase in the number of serious accidents Engaging children in England. Child cases reported by local authorities increased by 20% and child deaths by 19%. There were 536 such notices in 2020-21, up from 229 the previous year. There was a 20% rise in the number of children killed or hurt.

This was not unexpected. Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of schools in England, noted that the pandemic has increased the “hiding of children at risk” for more than a year. England’s then-Children’s Commissioner for Children, Anne Longfield, warned just six months after the pandemic that children at risk would “keep out of sight”.

Arthur’s death may lead to questions about whether enough has been done to ensure these vulnerable youngsters remain in sight. This, in turn, may focus attention on the formidable Damage caused by large wounds Over the past decade imposed on increasingly fragile Departments of children, and on ways to improve protection and family support services.

It could also lead to a quick media and political reaction, as we’ve seen in past tragedies such as the deaths of Peter Connelly, better known as Baby P, and Victoria Climbié. “One of my biggest fears is that this will become a ‘never again’ moment and we will be back at the scapegoating of social workers,” Featherston says.

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